Mary Virginia Carpenter

Carpenter, circa 1948

  • Missing Since 06/01/1948
  • Missing From Denton, Texas
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 01/15/1927 (97)
  • Age 21 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'3, 120 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A white chambray dress with brown, red and green stripes and silver buttons down the front, red leather high-heeled platform shoes, a small white straw hat with a flipped-up brim and a feather in the back, and a gold Wittnauer watch. Carrying a red purse.
  • Associated Vehicle(s) Yellow or cream-colored convertible car, possibly a Pontiac
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, brown eyes. Carpenter's nickname is Jimmie. Many agencies refer to her by her middle name, Virginia. She has an appendectomy scar on her abdomen and she limps due to a prior bone infection in her right hip. Carpenter was recovering from a severe case of sunburn at the time of her disappearance.

Details of Disappearance

Carpenter was last seen in Denton, Texas on June 1, 1948. She left her home in Texarkana, Texas and took a train to Denton, six hours away. She packed a brown steamer trunk, a matching makeup case and a black pasteboard hatbox. At the station she took a taxicab to Texas State College for Women (TSCW), now called Texas Women's University. She was planning to complete a summer term there.

Carpenter had previously attended the University of Arkansas and studied journalism, but transferred to the TSCW because she'd decided to enter into a career in the sciences instead; she aspired to a career as laboratory technician.

Carpenter first enrolled in the TSCW for the 1945-46 school year, then took a break from school to help her sick mother and save up money to pay for her education. She attended Texarkana Junior College for a time, then enrolled in the 1948 summer term at TSCW. She planned to begin training there as laboratory technician in the autumn, but disappeared just before the summer term began.

The cab driver, Edgar Ray "Jack" Zachary, later stated he stopped in front of Brackenridge Hall at 9:00 p.m. and Carpenter gave the driver a ticket for her trunk and paid him a dollar so he would fetch it for her from the train station the next day.

After getting out of the cab, Zachary said, Carpenter approached two young men standing near a yellow or cream-colored convertible car, possibly a Pontiac. One of the men was tall and the other is described as "chunky." Carpenter appeared to know them and began to speak to them, and Zachary drove away. She never checked into her dormitory, Brackenridge Hall, and has never been heard from again.

Some of Carpenter's former boyfriends stated she became infatuated easily and speculated she ran away with a lover, but her family did not believe she would have left without telling them. She had previously been engaged, but broke off the relationship just weeks prior to the wedding.

Carpenter's boyfriend passed a polygraph in connection with her disappearance, but authorities learned Zachary had a record for petty crimes and a reputation for being abusive. He was charged with attempted rape in 1957, but the charge was dropped after the victim asked authorities not to prosecute.

Zachary's wife stated he had been home with her from 10:00 p.m. onwards on June 1, but ten years after Carpenter's disappearance, his wife told police she had lied to them and her husband had not actually arrived home until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. on June 2. Zachary died in 1984. He was never charged in connection with Carpenter's case, but he remains a suspect, although he passed two polygraphs in her case.

In the winter and spring of 1946, five young people were murdered in lovers' lanes in Carpenter's hometown of Texarkana. The crimes are believed to have all been committed by the same person. The murderer was never caught and became known as the Texarkana Phantom Killer.

Carpenter was actually acquainted with three of the killer's victims. Authorities investigated to see if there was a link between her disappearance and the Texarkana slayings, but they found no evidence to support this theory.

In 1998, authorities received a tip that two men had raped and killed Carpenter shortly after her disappearance and buried her body in a dam at a stock tank near the Texas Women's University campus. The suspects were both deceased by 1998 and were not publicly identified. Authorities searched the dam after receiving the information, but uncovered no evidence.

Numerous leads and possible sightings of Carpenter have surfaced throughout the decades since her disappearance, but no evidence has been uncovered and none of the accounts have been proven. Her father died prior to her disappearance and her mother died in 1980, and she has no siblings, but three of her cousins still hope to get answers in her case.

Carpenter was declared legally dead in 1955. Her disappearance remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Denton County Sheriff's Office 940-349-1600

Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated March 10, 2015; date of birth added, name, distinguishing characteristics, clothing/jewelry description and details of disappearance updated.